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In January 2010, Ahrens left a voicemail with A-HOPE founder Mark Adams. That May, Adams responded, asking if the school would take a Sudanese student who was losing his scholarship at a high school in Nebraska. That student finished his education at Mooseheart, but never played competitive sports because of IHSA rules that require athletes to sit out a year after switching schools.

Later in 2010, Adams asked Ahrens if the school would take other Sudanese students. Told that Mooseheart would accept students regardless if they were athletes, Adams encouraged the four students to apply, according to the court filing.

The IHSA’s recruiting rules say that member schools are responsible for violations committed by coaches, staff, students “or any organization having any connection to the school.”

IHSA officials said they would not comment on the case until after the board’s ruling.

The school that raised questions about A-HOPE issued a statement in late November saying it “was never the intent of the Hinckley-Big Rock School District to attack the student-athletes or Mooseheart. Our only intent was in gathering information about the A-HOPE program and the basis for participation in IHSA sanctioned events and activities.”

It’s not the first time A-HOPE has received unflattering attention.

The Bloomington, Ind.-based foundation’s mission is helping “African student athletes studying in the U.S., but whose financial ability would otherwise make it impossible,” according to the nonprofit’s federal income tax forms.

The organization was founded in 2004 by Adams, who told last year that some of the African student athletes he’s brought to the United States are poor and homeless, while others “came from loving families willing to let them go in order to seek an education and fulfill their dreams of playing basketball beyond the club level.”

He said that his AAU team, Indiana Elite, was an important part of the A-HOPE program, because playing for the team during the summer helps the African students get college scholarships.

The AP left messages for Adams through the group’s website and at a phone number listed for a Mark Adams in Bloomington, Ind., but the requests for comment weren’t immediately returned.

Last month, the NCAA suspended two Indiana University freshmen for nine games and required them to repay a part of the impermissible benefits they received from Adams, including plane tickets, meals, housing, a laptop computer, a cellphone and clothing. The NCAA said Adams was considered an Indiana University booster because he once donated $185 to the school’s Varsity Club.

The four Sudanese students don’t fully understand why their eligibility is in question, said Hart, who insisted on being present during the AP’s interview with the student athletes. But they do know much is at stake.

Deng and Puou said they want to be businessmen when they return to Sudan. Nyang said he wants to be an engineer. Cross-country runner Wal Khat, the shortest of the four at 6-foot-4, said he wants to be a pilot.

“When we leave Mooseheart, we need something for support … No one will pay for you,” Khat said.

Hart has pledged Mooseheart will stand by them, whether or not they play sports.

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